Pilotwings Resorts is a bit sized flying simulation boasting incredible 3D effects, but a short mount of thrills.
Although this is a Pilotwings game by name, it doesn't feel totally the same in spirit. Instead of feeling more like a flight school like in the original games, it really feels more like a resort, hence Pilotwings Resort. There are no instructors to connect with and learn tips from, just basic tips you learn before you begin the missions. If you dig a little deeper in the game's presentation, you'll understand more why it's named what it is. The island that you fly over (and in some parts through) known as Wuhu Island, is lifted straight out of the Wii title Wii Sports Resort.
Gameplay exists in the following two modes: Mission Flight and Free Flight. Mission Flight is structured in classes, starting out with training and then advancing through bronze, gold, platinum and diamond, which unlocks after you finish the game. Each class consists of a series of challenges, one set for each of three vehicles: plane, rocket belt and hang glider. These challenges don't show a bevy of variety; they usually just become longer, more difficult routes of fly through this, shoot that, land on these.
There are very rare moments when the game will offer you a mission that lets you fly in a souped up version of your vehicle. There's the turbo jet that replaces the prop plane, the super rocket belt which is a much faster, harder to control rocket belt, and the bicycle glider that lets you pedal to stay afloat at the cost of stamina. Since these moments are few and far between, it only whets your appetite for more of them. The one real omittance that Pilotwings fans will lament over is skydiving. The one and only mission that lets you use a flying squirrel suit is no replacement for plummeting to the earth and opening your chute at the very last minute.
Mission Flight Mode would be over all too quickly if it weren't for the ranking system. Each mission ranks your progress from one to three stars depending on how many points you earn. You earn points based on a number of criteria such as hitting scoring rings, the quality of photos taken, the amount of time and fuel spent, and the accuracy of the landing. If you manage to get a perfect score, the game removes the points cap for that mission and lets you set an even higher score. This encourages you to replay missions over and over again to get that ever so close higher score.
Free Flight Mode is somewhat of a misnomer, as it's not really free. The cost of flying in this mode is that you only have less than a couple of minutes to zoom around the course before the game kicks you back to the menu screen. You can extend the max amount of free flight time by finding and popping balloons in the vehicle of your choice. You can also find stunt rings and icons that reveal information about particular locations. Spending the time flying around the island hunting for goodies is a good way to break up the quick pace of Flight Mission Mode in case you don't want to beat it one sitting.
Unfortunately, the time limit becomes discouraging if all you want to do is fly around the island exploring it unencumbered. It wouldn't have been that hard to simply disable the collectibles from appearing on the island just so you could fly around without worry of having your session suddenly ended. Still, the collector part of gamers will want to spend as much time in the island popping every balloon and passing through every stunt ring they can to unlock the game's many dioramas.
From a graphical standpoint, Pilotwings Resort is decently put together game. Granted, it doesn't sport the realistic visuals of other flight sims, and the look of the island is somewhat cartoony. There are still some beautiful vantage points and scenery to behold, and the vehicles look great for being as simple as they are. What really stands out is how well utilized the 3D effects are. Your Mii looks so real in their flying device that you just want to reach into the screen and pluck them out. When your plane hits an object and comes closer to the screen, it looks as if it's going to hit you in the face. Even the special effects such as jet streams and thermals look fantastic. Pilotwings Resort is a great showpiece of what the 3DS is capable of doing.
Audibly, there really isn't much to speak off. The sound effects are decent enough, such as the flapping of your hang glider in the wind and the splashdown from your plane as you land. Other effects sound like they were lifted from the original 16-bit title, such as the thrusters of your rocket belt. The music is nice; it's very mellow and easy to listen to. The soundtrack could have used more variation though, as it only changes when you change your ride.
To be blunt, Pilotwings Resort is not the next installment fans have been waiting 15 years for. It simply does not have the content nor the variety that gamers enjoyed in Pilotwings 64. Its presentation is too informal, and there's a complete lack of bonus games that both predecessors had. Because Pilotwings Resort falls so short of what it could have been, it leaves the game feeling like nothing more than a tech demo that lasts only a few hours. It's still a lot fun of play, but that only hurts the game more when you realize there's so much more you wanted to do.